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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

OUTSIDE CHINA                               323

On June n, 1097, at dawn, the brothers said good-bye and Su
Tungpo embarked with his young son and some soldiers that the
Luichow magistrate had sent along to attend him on the journey. It
was only a short voyage, and on that clear day Tungpo could see the
dim outlines of the mountains of the island appearing on the horizon.
He was profoundly moved. The sea held no fascination for him as it
has for many Western poets. .In fact, he was "frightened out of his
wits". But they had a safe crossing. After landing, Su and his son
travelled to their desdnation at Tanchow on the north-western corner
of the island, arriving on July 2.

Soon after his arrival a very good county official, Chang Chung,
arrived. He was not only an admirer of the poet but also a great chess
player, and a strong friendship developed between Chang Chung and
Kuo. They used to play chess all day together while Su Tungpo
watched. Through Chang's kindness Su was put up at an official build-
ing next to Chang's living-quarters. It was, however, a shabby little
place, and when the autumn rains came, the roof leaked, so that Su
had to change his bed from one place to another during the night.
As this was a government building, Chang had the rooms repaired at
government expense, which later got him into trouble.

The island was all but uninhabitable from the Chinese point of view.
The climate was very damp, oppressive in summer and foggy in winter.
During the autumn rains everything grew mouldy, and Su Tungpo
once saw a great number of white ants dead on his bedposts. The un-
healthy climate provoked reflections on prolonging life. This was what
he wrote:

"The climate in south China is damp and in summer the humid
swampy atmosphere rises from the ground. This is especially true
of Hainan. Between the end of summer and the beginning of
autumn, everything rots. How can a human being, who is not made
of rocks or metals, stand this for long? But I see many old people
here over a hundred years old, not to speak of those who are eighty
or ninety. It occurs to me that a long life depends merely on adjust-
ment to the surroundings. A salamander can live in the fire and
silkworms' eggs can be preserved on ice. Sometimes by mental
control I keep my mind a blank and make my consciousness trans-
cend the material existence, whether it be in freezing cold or under a
scorching sun. In this way, it shouldn't be difficult to live to over a
hundred years. The illiterate old peasants here know nothing of
this secret; they calmly get adjusted to the climate like the sala-
manders and the silkworms. Why shouldn't they live a long life if
they just keep on breathing in the cold air and breathing out the
warm air in continuous succession? Indeed, what Chuangtse said